Our public schools already shoulder a great deal of responsibility. They are expected not only to teach our children reading, writing and arithmetic, but also, in many cases, to help make sure that they are adequately fed and nourished, to help them cope with disabilities, to instill in them core values of good citizenship, and to help those who come from afar integrate into our community. But should our schools also have the responsibility to serve as arms of the immigration enforcement authorities?
That, in practice, is what a bill introduced this legislative session by Representative Randy Terrill would force our schools to become. HB 3384, under the guise of collecting data on the population of students who are not lawfully present in the United States, would require the presentation by parents “for inspection to a designated school official at the school in which the child is enrolled of official documentation establishing the citizenship or immigration status of the child.” Each school district would be required to make a determination of the student’s legal status and then compile and report this information to the State Department of Education.
At the very least, the bill raises some serious constitutional questions. HB 3384 does not expressly challenge the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe (1982) that primary and secondary school students living in the United States cannot be denied a public education on the basis of their immigration status. But the requirement to submit documents that would allow schools to determine the citizenship and immigration status of every student can be expected to create considerable fear and confusion among undocumented and other non-citizen students, deterring many from enrolling and attending public schools. Creating such obstacles to exercising a constitutional right could well violate the Equal Protection rights of these students under the Constitution.
Moreover, the bill would put schools in the position of having to determine the immigration and citizenship students of students. It is not only that such tasks are outside of and contrary to the core mission of public schools. But in a whole range of cases, determining the immigration status of a child can be extremely murky and complicated. That is why only federal immigration courts have the authority to make immigration status determinations. Delegating this authority to local public school officials raises serious constitutional due process concerns, and provides schools with powers they should not have and do not want.
As Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard has stated, complying with the requirements of HB 3384 to determine, compile, and report the citizenship and legal status of every student” would be a huge undertaking and detract from our mission, which is to teach kids.” Schools would need to create new protocols and regulations, conduct extensive training, and spend countless hours pursuing forms from those who fail to present the proper documents for inspection. At a time of budget shortfalls and cutbacks, it would divert scarce resources away from the core mission of providing children with a quality education and furthering their well-being. For children of immigrants and their families, it would increase fear and unease, and risk breaking the essential relationship of trust and safety between schools, students and families. Could such costs possibly be outweighed by any value to the state of possessing additional,and ultimately unreliable, data on the number of undocumented children attending school in Oklahoma?
In an otherwise fine op-ed in the Tulsa World, Mike Jones predicts that HB 3384 “will probably sail through the Legislature”. Jones may be overly resigned to the bill’s outcome. In the House, a handful of Republicans joined a majority of Democrats in voting ‘no’. The bill may face an even tougher time in the Senate, where a razor-thin Republican majority may not be keen to take up this divisive proposal. Let’s hope the upper chamber gives this misguided proposal the quiet and unmourned death it deserves.
Update: HB 3384 died when it was not heard in the Senate. Rep. Terrill has indicated he would try to revive the bill’s language in another legislative vehicle.